Early in the spring of 1994, I met a girl named Heather out on The Drag in Austin, Texas. "The Drag" is what everyone called a wide strip of Guadalupe Avenue near the University where a high concentration of street vendors, punks and hippies hung about.
That spring Heather could often be found sitting on a blanket toward the end of the Drag, wrapping strands of people's hair in colored string for money. I worked in a diner near her blanket, so we became friendly.
I lived nearby, and one time she asked if she could come over to my house to use the phone. Apparently she didn't have one where she lived.
"Sure, okay," I said.
"Oh, thanks a lot, man," she said.
She rolled up her blanket and spools of string and we walked over to my place.
She was pretty, with troubled eyes and a dyed blue streak running through her black hair. After she used the phone in my house that day she gave me a blowjob. As she was going down on me, I wondered if it was in return for using the phone, or if the whole phone bit had been a ruse so that we could get frisky.
Heather and I began a spotty relationship. Every once and a while she'd come by the diner as I got off work and walk with me back to my place, and at some point she'd casually begin to unbutton my pants. We never had sex, though. She had subtly hinted that this was off limits.
I gathered that Heather was sort of in transit. She was staying with friends; taking a break, she said, from life, with a community of pagan hippie folk who owned a big farm out in a small Texas town called Bastrop. This community was called the Zendik Tribe.
"They're nice people," she explained. "It just gets kind of intense sometimes."
Like most people in Austin, I was aware of The Zendiks. They often cruised The Drag, selling their self-published magazines and CDs, and talking
New members of the tribe were quarantined for about two months. After this, they were free to enjoy the company of whoever consented without protection.
vaguely about escaping the "Death Kulture" of the outside world. The Zendik men usually wore long beards and dreadlocked hair, and some of the women pierced their ears and noses with bits of animal bone. They didn't stand out that much in Austin, but they were a curiosity. A friend once told me they were a "sex cult".
I told this to Heather and she laughed. "It's not about sex. But they don't believe in monogamy. It's all out in the open."
Heather explained how new members of the tribe were placed under quarantine for about two months, meaning they couldn't have sex with anyone. After this they were tested for STD's and then free to enjoy the company of whoever consented without protection. The founder of the group, an aging radical from California named Wulf, had instituted this practice.
"Wulf hates condoms," said Heather.
I began to wonder if this was why Heather wouldn't have sex with me. Maybe she planned, at some point, to go back there, and didn't want to be placed under quarantine when she did.
"We can use a condom," I told her, but she shook her head. I guess there was more to it than that.
I told Heather if she ever did go back, I'd like to check out the farm myself.
"Yeah, maybe, okay," she said.
About a month later she asked me for a ride out there. She wasn't going to bring her bags. We were just going for a visit. We left that afternoon.
The drive took a little over an hour and Heather was very quiet. When we arrived she let out a big sigh.
"Well, here we are," she said.
The place was very well kept. There was an elaborately welded metal sign planted out front which read "Zendik Farm" in spiky letters. As we drove down the bumpy dirt road a pack of dogs materialized to greet us. There were about fifteen of them, all barking loudly and howling, but no one seemed to pay much attention.
A pick-up truck drove by, its back loaded down with healthy-looking, long-haired young folk. Heather said they were probably headed out to do some work in the fields. We got out of the car and walked around. A group of kids ran by us, trying to catch a chicken.
A short teenaged kid approached us and gave Heather a hug. His name was Xed, spelled with an "X", he explained. He had a metal ring through his lip, and the skin around it looked a little infected. His hair was cropped short on the sides, a sort of punk look, and he had affixed safety pins to most of his clothing. Xed had only been living there for a few months.
We wandered around the sets of wooden buildings with Xed and as we did others came by to say hello. They all introduced themselves with what I learned were Zendik monikers, usually self-chosen, but sometimes with help from the group. "Talon," "Willow," "Raj," "Cinder." A woman in her thirties gave Heather a long embrace and asked her how the "walkabout" was going. She had grey streaks in her hair and strong, defined biceps.